When I was 12 years old, I read Roger Bannister’s account of breaking the 4 minute mile, pushing himself to the outer limits of human possibility, “collapsing almost unconscious, like an exploded light bulb”. I was inspired–and astonished. Run a mile in four minutes. The thought of it still baffles me!
I walked a mile yesterday, sweat-drenched, heart pounding, lungs aching. My app Runkeeper, informed me that it was my fastest ever. 21 minutes, 15 seconds.
I had broken the 22 minute mile.
And I felt unreasonably happy. I have never been fit, and, after colon cancer surgery, was walking a mile in 33 minutes, then 30, then 26 minutes with pride, 25 minutes with incredulity, a 24 minute mile with dizzy joy.
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George Malkmus’s God’s Way to your Ultimate Health inspired me to decline chemotherapy after Stage III colon cancer to instead strive for super-nutrition to boost my immune system (so as to combat any remaining cancer cells). Malkmus recommends a practice which he says will change your life, and may even save it: Walk a mile as fast as you can, record the speed; continue trying to walk faster until you can walk 1 mile in 15 minutes; then 2 miles in 30 minutes; 3 miles in 45 minutes, and finally 4 miles in 60 minutes.
So here I am shooting for a 15 minute mile, beating my speed most days by a few seconds. My 16 year old Irene speed-walks a mile in 11 minutes. Why should I be happy about walking a 21 minute mile?
Because it is my personal best; because I have worked for it; because I have got better. So much better
That’s one secret of happiness. Let your trajectory bring your joy. In my twenties, I read 60 meaty books a year (and was sad that I was not reading more.) This year, I have read substantially less than that, but instead of allowing it to be a source of deep sadness , I am happy because I am reading more than I did last year.
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When my husband Roy took early retirement in 2010, I wanted him to make all my garden dreams come true. Promptly. I wanted him to construct a waterfall, an artificial stream, a herb garden for starters. But he thought he should make us some money.
We had entered a new phase of our lives, with him working from home, and me trying to write. So we wisely sought counsel.
I sadly told the counsellor the garden dreams of my teeming brain, and he, in turn, told us a fable.
“There was once a man whose dream since youth was to be a millionaire. But the years passed, and middle age passed, and it seemed his dream would remain a dream.
Saddened, he thought, “Well, I have always wanted to be a millionaire, and now the end draws nigh, and it looks as if I am to be disappointed. What should I do?”
And then he thought, “Perhaps I could have a little of the millionaire lifestyle? Is there anything a millionaire has that I could have?”
And then he thought: “I bet millionaires change their razor-blades every day. And I can afford to change mine. So while I cannot be a real millionaire, I can be like a millionaire when it comes to razor blades. I can be a razor blade millionaire.”
Silly little story, I know, but I am adopting that way of thinking.
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My garden is huge for England, for anywhere. One and a half acre. I have so many garden dreams. I want edible hedges, an edible lawn and edible inter-planted flower beds. I want to grow all my own fruit and vegetables. A bog garden? A larger rock/alpine garden? Oh, and I want to spend no more than an hour a day doing this, and two hours on Sunday.
We’ve lived in our home for ten years, and in the early years, I was sad at the mismatch between my garden dreams and my garden reality. Frustrated, disappointed and overwhelmed, I would stop gardening for months at a time, and my garden became a shaggy overgrown Sleeping Beauty garden.
It’s still a bit shaggy, let me confess, but what I do now is take joy in each herb, each fruit tree, each little flower that opens, each little bird that sings, admire its beauty. Many of my garden dreams may come to pass; others might not. They may be too wild, impractical, time-consuming or expensive. But I will enjoy my garden such as it is, even though I have planted less than a tenth of what I want to.
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Creativity, creativity… I have so many stories and ideas which I have not yet written down. My writing career, if I have one, will not resemble the one I dreamed of.
But… but… but… creativity is its own reward. The joy of creating things, of making beautiful things, is its own reward. And so I am grateful for what I do write, even if it is in no way as plentiful or as beautiful as I hoped for. I am grateful for those who read.
Today is the day the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it: I often tell myself that. This is the life, the marriage, the work, the garden God has given me, and they are all good. And I will rejoice and be glad in them.
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Happiness to me has become the minimum requisite as I go through my day. I often do a spot-check and ask myself, “So Anita, are you feeling happy?” And when the answer is no, it’s often because circumstances, or people, or my writing are not behaving the way I want them to.
But then I think, “Not being happy, that’s nonsense. There is so much good in the very people who are annoying me. There’s so much good in my world—a loving husband and loving children; a large dream house; a large dream garden (in its size and blank canvas-ness); a labradoodle!; health (phew, yes, unexpectedly); friends; work I love, books to read, the time and ability to travel, enough income to be happy; so many interests to make me happy: art, film, architecture, literature, nature, gardening. And I live in a beautiful old God-breathed world full of fascinating history, beauty, culture, good people. I will choose to dwell on beauty. I will choose to be happy.** And because I am naturally sanguine, thank goodness, even in the process of giving myself this pep talk, I become happy again.
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I have a friend who is uncannily like me. He delighted in running faster and faster, beating his personal bests. When his knees went, and he could no longer run, he delighted in walking further and further. As middle age hit, and he maxed out on the distance he could walk in his available time, he bought a treadmill, set it on incline, and walks ever-steeper “hills.”
Ah, I too enjoy quantifying my life. It adds fun to it.
But what happens when we age, and can no longer walk faster, grow stronger, break records in our own personal Olympics? When strength fails, and one can no longer write more words or read more books in a year? What then?
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Well, I thought, when I can no longer crunch personal bests in all my endeavours, I will take joy in the Lord. I will enjoy his goodness, the world he has made, and his love for me. I will enjoy the ever-changing canvas of the skies, the subtle and glorious change of the seasons. I will think of Jesus, and I will enjoy Jesus. I will meditate on scripture, those wonderful words; I will enjoy Scripture. I will enjoy God. I will be happy. Yes, I will be happy.
And then I thought…all these lovely ways in which I intend to find happiness when I am old, and can no longer walk faster, read faster, write faster; when I am totally amused and at peace with my own unimpressiveness—you know what? I can do them right now.
All those ways in which I plan to be happy when I am aged, I will be happy today while I am middle-aged.
Yes, starting today.